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The Three Bends in Champas Life

-Navin Prakash Bhatt

Laxmi Prasad Devkota has both a unique gift of language and an unparalleled craftsmanship for characterization. He enters into the skin of the character and then explores the subtle human nature successfully. Lifelike delineation of the character with real and day to day language and setting reveal the writers true artistic genius. The writers humanitarian gaze flashes upon burning issues of society. Devkota picks up a particular issue, typifies it and urges for social reform. Champa, the only novel by Devkota, is one of the best examples in this context.

Child marriage is the central issue in this eponymous novel. On the bedrock of the issue, Devkota attempts to attack the male-dominated, patriarchal society and urges for drastic reform. In this novel, Devkotas humanitarian gaze flashes upon the child-bride Champa. As the central character of the novel, Champa typifies the entire race of women in Nepalese society. She is a developing character who is carefree, outspoken and energetic in the beginning; submissive child-bride in the middle; and bold, assertive and the agent of her own life (Thapa 21) at the end of the novel. This essay aims at tracing these three stages in the development of character.

Champa is just twelve years old when she is introduced in the novel. She seems outspoken and close with her grandfather, Subba Shreekanta. She enters his room when he was looking into a mirror hanging on the wall. She was amazed by that act and doesnt hesitate to ask him Grandpa, do you, too, enjoy looking into mirror?(Devkota 3) Subba Shreekanta too respond humorously, What! We dont have eyes? Only youve got eyes and face?(3) Champa, though

immature by age, is clever and efficient to study the psychology of her grandfather. Thats why, in no time, she changes the tone of her dialogue with a tinge of respect and praise. And, successfully, moderates her grandfathers vehement criticism. As a result, the old man also mildly blames her of revealing her own narcissistic attitude under the guise of his praise. Furthermore, the old man satirizes indirectly by stating that he needs to watch the mirror to find out the smoke stain of tobacco on the moustache rather than for make-up. Champa is very diplomatic. She goes on praising her grandfather to reduce the intensity of the satire. She says that her grandfather is more handsome than so many other adults of his age. She further adds that the wrinkled face of her grandfather is far better than the unwrinkled of many others.

Champas real nature and personality is revealed when Subba Shreekanta says,What a clever lass! She can cheat the cleverest of the clever. See! Am I handsome? You deceiver! (3) But Champa does not stop there. She goes on praising the old man comparing him with Vyas, the grey haired saint and author of The Mahabharata epic. Subba Shreekanta is also fond of teasing her and proposes any old man as her groom. Her being shocked by this suggestion indicates her growing consciousness towards womanhood. Champa refuses to marry. When Subba Shreekanta reveals the fact that some Adhikari has proposed to marry her, she vehemently refuses to marry with any stupid Adhikari chap. Her open denial to marry shows another side of her personality. She is bold, self-confident and proud of her personality. She has indomitable spirit. In course of the conversation Champa also questions the notion of sin. Grandfathers attempt to define the term sin does not satisfy her. She does not have faith in blind beliefs. Though she has not tilted yet against the tradition, there is unflinching germ of revolt against traditional beliefs in the bottom of her heart.

Champa is rational and argumentative. She seeks a logical basis for every statement. Is it odd to steal for a hungry soul? A cat steals. Those who do not have opportunity to study and satisfy their hunger are sure to be mischievous. (5) Subba Shreekanta quotes from Hindu classics to answer her queries and subdue the intensity of her arguments, but all in vain. She argues against grandfathers culturally loaded notions. She is not convinced at all. Finally, Subba Shreekanta is unable to convince her and he scolds her with male authority and says, Go for play. (5) And Champa obeys him at once. The conversation delineates Champa as a frank, clever, openhearted and logical person. She is more rational than her seventy-two years old grandfather.

Traditional-minded Mrs Shubba, Champas grandmother forces her husband- Subba Shreekanta, to arrange Champas marriage. The old man does not seem to be in favor and resists by saying that she is too small. But Mrs Subba dominates referring to the possible devastating consequences if Chamapa menstruates before her marriage. At this point, Champa becomes a victim of Hindu patriarchal culture which emphasizes Kanya Daan as one of the best forms of Daans. It is believed that it wipes away all the hurdles on the way to heaven after ones death. Kanya Daan is regarded as one of the clean chits to go to heaven. And, Kanya Daan before the girl child begins to menstruate is the best form of Kanya Daan. Mrs Subba is very convinced by this notion and insists that Champa be married. Finally, Subba Shreekanta is compelled to agree and he decides to get her married off as soon as possible. Ramaakanta Adhikari, the third son of Ramakanta Adhikari is one of the candidates. Parents of both sides are almost implicitly in agreement, while both the boy and the girl do not seem eager to get married.

The first part of the novel does not disclose much of the personality of Champa. In the second part, Ramaakanta, the youngest son of Pandit Ramakanta and would be groom of Champa, goes to see her. He examines through a hole in the wall that surrounds the playground where she is playing with her colleagues. Amazed by her beauty he compares her with the Venetian Nymph. She is tall, bright and smart. Though she was not the girl of his dream, he realizes that she is far better than him. Internally, he was attracted towards her. He does not think it necessary to meet her and comes back without leaving any trace of his presence there. Finally, the parents of both sides decided to get them married. They did not even arrange an appointment between the boy and the girl before their marriage. Champa and Ramaakanta did not get to see one another openly before their marriage. None of them has any say against their parents decision. Parents are more dominant than the individuals concerned. Because of the very reason, in Senena Nandas view, the custom of arranged marriage is oppressive (Nanda 204).

When the marriage proposal was accepted, an unknown fear overcame Champa. She began to think about her husband, mother-in-law, jewellery, cosmetics and so on. She also becomes aware of post-nuptial phase of her life i.e. mother-in-laws behavior, nature of her husband and settlement in the new-home. She is not at home to think about all these states of affair. She does not like even to think about marriage. She wants to continue study, dance and singing. Ultimately she wants to be a heroine. She does not like male superiority at all. Champa wishes to avoid the entire business of marriage and all that restricts her freedom. She is restless and cannot sleep till mid-night.

Tradition appears as an antagonistic force in the carefree life of Champa. The power of the grinding stone of tradition crushes her individual freedom. Champas indomitable spirit urges

her to pursue the career of a heroine which is not unnatural for a beautiful girl like her. But her inner voice of remains unexpressed and unheard simultaneously.

After marriage poor Champa was shocked when she saw her husband naked. He was short, thin, lean, and with abundant pimples throughout the face. Foul smelling armpit and noticeable wound stain on the cheek were really intolerable features of her groom. Furthermore, she was unable to sleep in the first night because of the foul smell from the grooms body. She does not like him at all. She hates him to the maximum extent. She was dreaming of someone special as her husband, but, to her surprise, she happens to be a wife of a short, thin, ugly and foul smelling furnace. Life is what happens to you while youre making other plans. Champas ideal desire to be a film star ironically materializes as a prisoner in the house of Ramaakanta. Even her grandmother realized the fact that the groom is not suitable for Champa. But it was too late. Nothing could be altered at that point. Her dream collapses then and there. She was compelled to accept the condition determined by the then typical Bhramin patriarchy. As a consequence, a sense of revolt germinates within Champa against patriarchal rites and practices. This is where Champa faces the first bend of her life. She pursues the course of life without any visible complaints.

Unlike her dream, Champa marries Ramaakanta. He is not the prince of her dream, but she tries to adjust with him. Meanwhile, within one and a half years, Ramaakanta falls sick and happens to be the patient of tuberculosis, the then incurable fatal disease. This is the inciting force in the development of the plot. Now Champa finds herself in a new situation which is unusual and unexpected. Ramaakanta discloses the fact to Champa and suggests her to continue to study and live on her own. He clearly declares her independence from all the bonds

that were created as a result of marriage. Devkotas craftsmanship seems very note worthy at this point. He has portrayed Ramaakanta as very radical character, who is far ahead of his time and society, who realizes the importance of education and freedom for Champa to live a meaningful life without a husband. Unfortunately, Champa is too immature to grasp the essence of his suggestion. She takes the message superficially. After sometime, Ramaakanta is admitted into a sanitorium at Tokha for the treatment of tuberculosis.

Though there isnt much deep love between Champa and Ramaakanta, both of them have placed themselves in one anothers heart. In the absence of Ramaakanta, Champa feels lonely. She finds herself alienated from the rest of the family. Thats why she frequently goes to watch movies. While at home, she embraces the photo of Lord Krishna, the ideal husband of all the Hindu women. Furthermore, she also begins to devote much of her time to make-up in front of the mirror, paying attention to her beauty. She is becoming more and more body-conscious and wants to be attractive and smart. She also kills her time humming film songs in front of mirror, which is not unnatural for a thirteen year old child. What else could she do? Besides, she also goes to Tokha to see Ramaakanta, who is getting better. Improved health of Ramaakanta is a solace to grief-stricken Champa. She is also gradually maturing. But her activities and behavior are highly objectionable for the rest of the family members. They start criticizing her. Devkota uses their criticism as a tool to give movement to the plot which leads the story to the climax of the novel.

It is the mother-in-law who starts criticizing Champa first. She does not like the way Champa behaves, dresses and works. The make-up, in the absence of husband, is highly objectionable for her. She severely scolds Champa for her behavior and make-up in front of her sisters-in-law. Champa knew that all are against her. She tries to defend herself. When there is

surge of criticism she feels tough to adjust. Sometimes, naturally, she loses her temper in such cases. As a result, she is further blamed for rudeness and disrespect. When Champa finds herself alone and defenseless, she avoids their company and confines herself to her own room. Time weathers on and circumstances change. Champa tries to endure and survive. Somehow she manages to live in that hostile environment.

Meanwhile, Ramaakanta returns home with improved health. He is welcomed ceremoniously. Now he is free to eat anything, study and do things usually. But sexual intercourse was not allowed at all. Because of this reason, Champa does not have permission to share the bed with Ramaakanta. Even she has not had free access to his room. But Ramaakanta calls her frequently. He enjoys her company. Gradually, a sort of intimacy develops between Champa and Ramaakanta. He often uses the nickname bamboo to tease her. She abhors the way Ramaakanta teases her but does not express her grievances. One day, Ramaakanta openly praises Champa for her beauty and unexpected fast growth. Champa, too, does not hesitate to express her dissatisfaction for her nomenclature as bamboo. She also mildly objects to male domination and maltreatment of females in the Nepalese context. This is how the sprout of revolt within Champa comes out against the domination of patriarchy. Day-after-day, both Champa and Ramaakanta spend long hours together in a room. Unrevealed and unexpressed attachment grows between them. Ramaakanta, in one pretension or the other, goes on calling her in his room. He wants her beside him. Champa too likes to be near by him. On the contrary, the mother-in-law warns Champa. She does not like Champa entering Ramaakantas room time and again. She also scolds Ramaakanta to be conscious about doctors suggestion to avoid sexual intercourse. The sisters-in-law, too, do not leave any stone unturned to criticize Champa. It is too much for her to tolerate. She finds their backbiting senseless. She believes that they are jealous of her beauty and improving health of Ramaakanta.Champas untouched loveliness

fans the flames of jealousy and hatred in the hearts of her in-laws (Thapa 22). Otherwise, why has she become a subject of criticism and blame? Is it a crime for her to enter Ramaakantas room? Isnt she a human being who needed human relationship? How can she live like a heartless soul? She goes on thinking along this line of thought.

Champa comes out of family surrounding and begins to think about herself as member of a vast universe. She does not like to confine herself with the typical family and its norms. Instead, she stands in front the mirror when Ramaakanta is away from the room and finds herself One of the nymphs of Heaven (Devkota 31). Then she compares herself with Helen, Draupadi and Sita, the legendary beauty of Western and Eastern myths. She thinks about the universe as a playground of her life. Champas free spirit is not ready to accept her life within the narrow domestic walls of Adhikari family. Revolutionary ideas emerge in her mind. She is fiercely against the so-called norms of the patriarchal society. She does not see humanity that respects her beauty under the family roof. Bertrand Russell rightly states in his celebrated book Marriage and Morals, A woman had in no period of her life any independent existence, being subject first to her father and then to her husband (17). A woman is subjected both by her father, before marriage, and husband, after marriage. Champa reflects very seriously about her condition as a married woman and finds her like a slave. There is no humanity and minimum social ethics that treats her as human being. So, in her eyes, Marriage is a mere transaction, sell of ones soul into anothers grip (Devkota 32). In return, she gets some cosmetics, a few dresses, food and shelter. That is all for a woman. Champa believes that there is no joy or romance for Nepalese women. No dance, no singing and always monotonous, routine and traditionally dominated existence. Champa hates the way the family restricts her. She is against all the tissues and fetters that challenge her freedom as a member of the universe.

Devkotas characters are lifelike. They speak out naturally. Devkota maintainsdialectical opposition between artful showing and inartistic, merely rhetorical, telling (Booth 27). He does not intrude upon the narrative to express his personal attitudes and judgment about characters and events in which they are involved. Rather, he makes his characters speak on their own, and portrays their situation without violating the artistry. Development of Champaa personality from a submissive child-bride to the agent of her own life is pertinent in this regard. Here, an individual Champa is elevated to representative figure of entire female race. The writers use of third person point of view in Champa helps to create distance between the character and the narrator as well as author. Instead of unnecessary intrusion, Devkota has exploited some rhetorical techniques like the use of folk-saying, description or commentary, letter, etc (Pradhan 248). Dialogue is another important device in Champa that dramatizes the events and inner psyche of the characters involved.

The more time passes, the more beautiful Champa grows. She has got all the qualities a beautiful woman should have. She is beautiful, honest, straightforward, brave and intelligenteverything a man could possibly want in a woman. She is also proud of her body and personality. But in Adhikari family Champa does not have an appropriate space. She is treated as unimportant and nothing. This is what makes her think and she questions herself about her position and her role in the family. The mother-in-laws instructions and idea of typical housewife is intolerable for her. She has radical notions that are not suitable for the family. Apparently she does not like to live like a traditional daughter-in-law. She aspires for freedom and enjoyment. While the mother-in-law and the sisters-in-law are on her way, she hates them and regards them as being narrow minded, unimportant and trivial. She does not value them at all. Though, she does not express her dissatisfaction and wrath visibly, she remains unflinching

in her thought and behavior. She represents the voice of her time. She is a powerful embodiment of change and reform.

Though she does not appreciate her husband from the core of her heart, Champa does not and cannot criticize him. Ramaakanta has a special place in her heart. She respects him, has sympathy for the odds he is facing and wishes for his quick recovery. This also shows that Champa is full of womanly qualities. And, she could play a suitable role of a good wife in their conjugal life. She is growing into an ideal woman in the pursuit of healthy conjugal life. She is in need of love from her husband. It is the burning need of the hour. Unfortunately, Ramaakanta has a different story.

Raamakanta is thoughtful about Champas future. He finds his health in the opposite extreme of her flourishing personality. He regards himself weak and pathetic. He believes that masculinity, since time immemorial, is for reproduction of a superman. He is closer to Bertrand Russell at this point who is of the opinion that A legitimate child is a continuation of a mans ego, and his affection for the child is a form of egoism (Russell 16). But Ramaakantas masculinity is questionable because of his poor health. It makes him contemplative, tense and restless. He does not have a choice and attempts to escape by regarding Gita, Dhammapada, Upanishad and the books by Gandhi, Tennyson and D. H. Lawrence. All these were means to kill time but they cannot satisfy him. He strongly forms a belief that healthy body for reproduction is most essential aspect of a male. He finds himself a miserable character in this context and decides to give up the family and society. He decides to run away from home, informs Champa through a letter and leaves on a tour of the world. In the letter he mentions the reason which compelled him to abandon her and requests her to forget him forever. Champa is abandoned

for no fault of hers. She is in the middle of nowhere. This is where Champas life comes across a second bend. She keeps on her journey of life enduring all the odds which are not in her favour.

As an author Devkota is omniscient: he knows all of his characters because they are his creations. He has access to the unstated feelings of the characters mind. But he depicts them without visible intrusion. Rather he invites his readers to see the conditions of his characters and the events in which they are involved. It is believed that successful characterization involves taking the readers to the heart, the inner core, of an imagined person (Mulla 84). Devkota is highly successful in this regard. He represents events from the point of view of the characters: mainly Champa or Ramaakanta. They have individual quirks and also are elevated beyond the particular to universal. They represent social class, bring forth social problems and urge for necessary reform. This reveals Devkotas artistic genius for craftsmanship of apt characters. Because of the very reason Champa has a unique ability to seize the attention of its readers.

Champa is shocked when she goes through the letter from Ramaakanta. She finds herself like a weaponless warrior in the battlefield. Her husband has abandoned her. She belongs nowhere. She begins to think about Ramaakantas decision and finds it unjustifiable because she hasnt demanded anything from him. He could live at home and remain celibate. She wouldnt have objected to that. But abandonment without even mentioning a word is unceremonious, rude and inhuman. Now her life is like a wreckage of a sunken ship. She doesnt have any choice but to seek a shore to survive. She tries to endure the agony of abandonment. But it is really tough mainly because of unfavorable and hostile environment of Adhikaris home.

As an aftermath of Ramaakantas departure, the mother-in-law and the sisters-in-law begin to make fun of Champa. They blamed her as an evil seductress that brought ill fortune for Ramaakanta as well as to the Adhikari family. The mother-in-law openly says that she is the only cause of ill fate in the family. Her sisters-in-law also mock her and look down upon her.

Champa too feels helpless and pathetic. The family environment is not suitable even for her minimum survival. She finds herself imprisoned among the in-laws who create obstacles in everything she does. She was alienated and degraded to a useless object. Champa, too, at this point, realizes that a wife without her husband, in the patriarchal domain, is nothing because she is now disqualified to become a mother. And motherhood is the backbone of a womans family life. There is no possibility for Champa to be a mother in the absence of Ramaakanta. With this everything collapses for her. Everywhere there is darkness for her. Then she is bound to remain silent, contemplative and inactive. And, she begins to devote her time in the worship of Lord Krishna who was her ultimate solace. She even dreams of the arrival of a live Krishna out of the statue she worships. Krishna, she thinks, is messiah to anchor the wreckage of her lifes sunken ship.

But Champas deeper attachment with Krishna Bhakti also becomes another subject of backbiting and mockery among the in-laws. Her sacred act of Krishna Bhakti is also treated as profane and showy. They blame her of having immoral intent behind the guise of excessive Krishna Bhakti. Champa is bound to tolerate every accusation. She tolerates it all silently. One night, meanwhile, about eleven oclock, the mother-in-law calls Champa. She could not hear clearly. And, then there was a second call and a third call, loud and rude in tone. This was an untimely call. She came to know, from the second and third calls,that the old woman was calling her to get massaged. Sooner than Champa could have responded, she was accused of

being indifferent and deaf in harsh terms, which was really unbearable for Champa. She too reacts in slightly vulgar terms but very slowly. Unfortunately, the mother-in-law happens to hear her words and then their conflict unfolds towards the climax of the novel. The old woman begins a tirade. She abuses Champa using the most obscene vocabulary possible. Not only that, she does not hesitate to call her a whore. She levels Champa and her position to nothing but dust. Therefore, it was not unnatural for Champa to answer her back which ultimately takes the form of unpleasant quarrel. In no time, all the family members assemble in the mother-in-laws room. And, then, she narrates the entire story. Pandit Ramakanta tried to settle the matter but all in vain. His wife was fierce like a tigress whose cubs have been eaten up recently. She declares that it is impossible for her to share the same roof with Champa. In response, Champa also, uses a sharp tongue. She was deprived of minimum right to live as a woman and was leveled to the shameful lowest strata of society. Besides, all the family members took side of the old woman and Champa stood alone. So, civilized tongue was not possible form Champas position, too. Her personality was also seeking emancipation from all the fetters of so-called family.

Amidst the unified attack Champa, too, decides to go away from Adhikaris home. She makes a remarkable decision, but without much reflection about the destination. She understands that maternal home is not a long term solution. Even then, she has no alternative at present. She ponders over the evil side of the destination and envisions it better than the existing location. Furthermore, Champa thinks that it would be far better to pursue a career of a cook in any palace than to live a meaningless existence of the hour. She is hopeful of getting a better space to survive than the existing one. That night, Champa remains busy preparing for next days departure. At dawn, the next day, she sets out for her maternal home accompanied by Panmati, the housemaids daughter. Champas departure for maternal home is the third

bend of her life. And, the novel ends making its readers inquisitive about further course of Champas life.

Thus, Champa revolts against a family and society that cannot accept the respectable position and existence of a woman. It fiercely attacks the feudal culture and behavior that degrades woman as a submissive sexual object. Devkota also urges us to rethink the institution of arranged marriage, which restricts the freedom of woman within the periphery of home. He has taken the incident of a particular individual, Champa, and has developed her as the representative character of the Nepalese society. She challenges the social customs that aggrandize patriarchy to exploit and dehumanize the female race. She raises a big voice for the emancipation of women. Devkota sends her to live a life of a free human being.

navin2bhatt@gmail.com

Works Cited

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Mullan, John. How Novels Work. New York: OUP, 2006.

Nanda, Serena. Arranging a Marriage in India. Flax Golden Tale:An Interdisciplinary Approach to Learning English. edts. Nissani, Moti and Shreedhar Lohani. Kathmandu: Ekta Books Distributors Pvt.Ltd. 2008. (p. 203- 213)

Pradhan, Pratapchandra. Devkotas Champa: A Genre Study. Bhrikuti. Edts. Prashrit, Modnath, et.el. Kahmandu: Bhrikuti Academic Publications. Issue 5: Kartik, Mangshir, Push 2066 BS. (p. 243-254).

Russell, Bertrand. Marriage and Morals. London and New York: Routledge, 2009.

Thapa, Shiba. Champa: A Child Brides Awakening Devkota Studies. Year 3, Vol. ii, No 5 (Nov.2008): 21-25.